Abu Dhabi Boosts Hollywood Connections

Persian Gulf city raises its profile as production hub, filming destination

Abu Dhabi’s twofour54, already picked by Disney to line-produce the United Arab Emirates portion of the “Star Wars: Episode VII” shoot, along with regional content creator Image Nation, are pushing on several fronts to gain Hollywood business and create a global hub in the Middle East for film and TV production.

They reinforced their initiative on June 11 with a panel discussion at the London hotel in West Hollywood that focused emerging expertise in the United Arab Emirates’ capital in all matters of content creation. The Aspen Institute organized the event at the request of the UAE embassy in the U.S. and ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba.

“Abu Dhabi has made a tremendous impact in the production sector attracting some of the world’s largest and most successful movie franchises,” said panelist Noura Al Kaabi, CEO of twofour54 (pictured, top center). “The success we are experiencing is due to the infrastructure and support we have established at twofour54, the development of location talent, the overwhelming support of government entities and the Abu Dhabi Film Commission’s 30% rebate on production spend in the Emirate.”

“Episode VII” director J.J. Abrams spoke to the panel attendees via video from Abu Dhabi, where he’s currently in production on the latest installment of the space saga.

Other panelists included Image Nation chairman Mohamed Al Mubarak (top, second from right), U.S. asst. secretary of state for economic and business affairs Charles Rivkin (at podium), and “City of Life” director Ali Mostafa (top right).

Walter Parkes (second from left), co-founder of Parkes/MacDonald Productions, moderated.

In addition to “Episode VII,” Abu Dhabi has attracted such productions as “Fast & Furious 7,” “Deliver us from Evil,” Bollywood feature “Bang Bang” and TV’s “The Bold & The Beautiful” and BBC’s “Top Gear.”

Image Nation commissions and produces content across several platforms, with a particular focus on audiences in the UAE and Gulf region. Production companies it has worked with include Parkes/MacDonald, Hyde Park Entertainment and Participant Media.

Participant recently announced it was co-financing the Parkes/MacDonald production of a docu about Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl severely wounded at age 14 in an assassination attempt by the Taliban, with Davis Guggenheim directing. Production begins this summer in conjunction with Image Nation.

The West Hollywood panel coincided with the launch of UAE flag carrier Etihad Airways’ non-stop service between Abu Dhabi and Los Angeles.

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